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Grand Emperor

Grand Emperor

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Grand Emperor
Grand emperor.jpg
Designer: Dom Camus
Players: 10-20
Stuff required: a normal deck of playing cards, an Imperial Soapbox (which can be a chair, a step or even just a piece of paper), plus optionally a binbag and a medium sized cardboard tube. Also optional: some stickers suitable for name tags.
Crew required: one Clerk of the Court (moderator)
Preparation: if using a binbag, cut a head-sized circular hole in the bottom.
Time required: roughly 20-30 minutes including setup time
Place required: anywhere quiet enough for players to converse easily.
Activities: bluffing, negotiating, strategy, acting.
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This is a playable game - it's finished, tested and ready to play.
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This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)

A lighthearted social game of courtiers attempting to select a new Grand Emperor.

Setting Up

  • Take the pack of cards and separate the cards into suits. The Clerk of the Court then randomly selects an equal number of cards from each suit such that the total number of cards is equal to the number of players. Where the number of players is not a multiple of four, the extra cards are drawn from Clubs first, then Diamonds, then Hearts.
  • The Clerk of the Court shuffles the pack and assigns one card face down, chosen at random, to each player. Each player in turn is shown their card. They may approach the Clerk of the Court at any time to see it again if they have forgotten what it is. At this point the Clerk of the Court may give each player a sticker with a suitably courtly name written on it.
  • The Clerk of the Court announces that the old Grand Emperor is at death's door and that a successor must be found!

Object of the Game

  • Each player is a member of the courts of the empire and is trying to become the next Grand Emperor or a member of his or her court.
  • The exception is any player to whom a Club has been dealt. Such players are revolutionaries trying to overthrow the old order.

Playing the Game

  • Players may move amongst one another and speak to either individuals or groups.
  • No player may show his or her card to another player (but making claims as to what card one has is fine).
  • At any time, two players may challenge one another to a duel by mutual agreement. To do so, they approach the Clerk of the Court and request this.
  • When a duel takes place, the Clerk of the Court inspects the cards of both players and announces the result to all players (but not what either card was).
  • The loser of a duel is out of the game (and has inevitably lost the game at this point if they are not a revolutionary). Eliminated players should not speak to or signal to other players.
  • Revolutionaries (Clubs) always lose duels with non-revolutionaries, on account of being better at poetry than swordsmanship!
  • Victory in a duel is otherwise determined by the highest denomination (Ace beats King beats Queen beats Jack beats Ten etc.). If both denominations are the same then both lose (and were clearly not paying attention during their fencing tuition).
  • At some point during the game (typically five minutes in or so) the Clerk of the Court announces the death of the old Emperor! From that point on, any player may approach the Clerk of the Court and announce their intention to become the new Grand Emperor. When this happens, the player in question becomes the Master of Election, as well as being a candidate for Grand Emperor and the Clerk of the Court gathers all players for the choosing of the new Grand Emperor.
  • The election begins with the Master of Election standing on the Imperial Soapbox, the better to view the assembled.
  • During an attempt to become Grand Emperor, the Master of Election points to each surviving player in turn (so not anyone who lost a duel) and that player must declare for an existing candidate for the office of Grand Emperor or declare themselves a new candidate.
  • Once every player has made their choice, the Clerk of the Court assesses each faction by looking secretly at the card held by each player in it.
  • A faction scores one point for each supporter (that is, not the would-be Emperor themselves) whose card is of equal to or lower face value than that of the faction's candidate. The exception to this is if the candidate is a revolutionary, in which case they receive a point for every supporter.
  • The faction with the most points has its candidate elected Emperor.
  • If a revolutionary is elected Grand Emperor then all revolutionaries win the game whether they survived the game or not. All other players lose.
  • If any other player is elected Grand Emperor then he or she wins, as do all non-revolutionaries supporting him or her. All other players lose.

At the End of the Game

  • The Grand Emperor and his or her court (or fellow revolutionaries as the case may be) stand, suitably magnificent in their victory.
  • If a bin bag and/or cardboard tube are available the former becomes the Grand Emperor's robe of office and the latter the Imperial Scepter.
  • Defeated players are encoraged to bow humbly before the new Grand Emperor.

Notes on Running the Game

  • If two players attempt to start an election absolutely simultaneously such that it is not clear who was first you will need to break the tie by flipping a coin or similar. When this happens, the player who is not Master of Election should be considered a candidate for Emperor from the start of the Election. (This can happen if two or more players are waiting only for the old Emperor to die before standing.)
  • As the Clerk of the Court it may take some time to prepare all the players in a large game in terms of giving out stickers and communicating card values. One way to handle this within the game is for the Clerk of the Court to formally announce each attendee at the gathering as they arrive (having just been prepared). Another good option is to let players choose their own stickers and then queue up to receive their cards.
  • It is important that players understand well in advance how the election will work since it may affect their strategy earlier in the game.
  • It is possible for the game to end in a tied vote. When this happens, the game ends in a draw between all those players who would have won if each of the tied candidates were victorious. (Optionally, if you find draws too frequent you may wish to force players supporting neither of the tied candidates to vote for one or the other in an order chosen by the Master of Election to attempt to break the tie.)

Setting and Theme

The implied setting of this game is something like 19th century Europe, but there is no reason why that needs to be the case. Particularly if name labels are being used the feel of an Empire in almost any setting could be substituted. Feudal Japan, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms or even a cheesy high fantasy setting should all work quite well.

Designer's Notes

  • Broadly, the game's strategy is to try to determine one person whom you are confident is both high ranking and not a revolutionary and then support them.
  • Duels are a good way to determine this, except that they are invariably risky for at least one of the participants.
  • If you're a revolutionary then in an emergency you could even challenge another player to a duel if you're fairly sure they're a revolutionary too. After all, you'll still win if they become Grand Emperor, as a martyr to the cause!
  • If someone tries for Grand Emperor who you don't trust and you yourself are high ranked it's a good idea to stand against them in case they are a revolutionary.
  • For this reason, if you are a revolutionary trying for Emperor yourself it is a good idea to choose people who you think are likely to be well supported competing candidates as late as possible. On the other hand you can't be too obvious about it or the non-revolutionaries are unlikely to support you at all!
  • Whatever position you're in, lots of deal-making, heckling and encouraging other people to challenge each other to duels is probably a good idea.
  • Thanks to Kevan Davis for assistance in making improvements to this game.
  • Long live the Grand Emperor!

Pictures from play

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(These are the ten most recent Flickr photos of Grand Emperor. To add your own, just add the "ludocity:game=grandemperor" tag to your Flickr photos.)